There is a recently published article called What Will “Jew” Be, by the French Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, which can be found in a new book entitled “Communities of Meaning”, a collection of essays in honour of Rabbi Larry Hoffman and his extraordinary contributions to Jewish thought and life over his many decades of teaching.
In it, she recounts a game she played in her liturgy class with Rabbi Hoffman, in which he wrote the letters “P-A-I-N” on the board, and he asked them to play charades to convey its meaning. Her English-speaking classmates, naturally, made contorted faces as they mimed being hurt. When it was her turn, however, Rabbi Horvilleur mimed eating, with the word “pain” in French, of course, meaning, “bread”. Knowing exactly what he was doing, Horvilleur was happy to play along with this moment of being “lost in translation”.
So it is with prayer, that Rabbi Hoffman was aiming to demonstrate. Whilst we have the words of the liturgy on the page, our interpretation of prayer is also informed by language, time, history, and the minds and bodies that express them.
So it is with Judaism, too, Rabbi Horvilleur expands. Whilst there are certain aspects of our Jewish identities that are baked into our DNA – we have our texts, our holidays, our rituals – it is equally comprised of our own life experiences and the encounters we are exposed to. As she says in summary, “Just as we never precisely know what a text meant originally, we never know for sure what being a Jew meant at the beginning nor what it will mean one day in the future”.
As we grapple with what our Judaism will look like in the wake of October 7, we decide how to shape our own future.
To that end, we understand and acknowledge the fear, the anxiety, the grief, and the sadness that all of us have felt following the tragedy, and the resultant rise of antisemitism here at home in Canada.
That being said, there is a silver lining, too – for those who previously felt that their Judaism was adjacent to who they were, there is a renewed attachment to being Jewish as a core facet of their being, and we are seeing it here at Holy Blossom. This is evidenced in the increase in attendance at worship services, where you, our congregants, come together in prayer as you seek sacred space and sacred community.
I would propose that we have two options as a result.
One is to feel a sense of resentment that being Jewish is no longer an “opt-in” affair. Whether we want to or not, there is no avoiding our Jewishness. It is at the centre of who we are whether we want it to be or not, whether it’s our own internal pressure or whether it’s coming from external forces, and that might feel uncomfortable.
The other is to embrace the opportunity that this brings, and, perhaps unexpectedly, to find the joy in reconnecting with our roots, in reconnecting with our congregation – and to give ourselves permission to feel that spark of contentedness among our people, to find that anchor at a time when our world is so unstable.
We encourage you to keep choosing and finding joy.
It might be through our meaningful and musical Kabbalat Shabbat Services (6 pm every Friday!).
It might be through the fullness of our educational offerings, such as our Youth Education Centre.
It might be through the absurdity and hilarity of our upcoming Purim festivities.
So, I will conclude with the question with which Rabbi Horvilleur ends her essay: “What Will Jew Be?”, when faced with this crossroads, and the choices we can make as a result, and as we shape this new future together.